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Education Funding

Ed. Dept. Doles Out a Dozen Grants to Educate Native American Students

By Alyson Klein — September 24, 2015 1 min read
Horses graze outside of Isna Wica Owayawa, the Lakota name for Loneman School, a public K-8 school, on the Pine Ridge reservation.
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A dozen tribes, organizations, and others are taking advantage of a brand new program aimed at helping Native American students succeed.

The initiative, called the Native Youth Communities Projects Program, encourages grantees to blend strategies to close the achievement gap—including revamping instruction, bolstering family engagement, and offering student support services—with culturally relevant programs.

The grants are just $5.3 million in all, a pretty paltry sum in the scheme of the department’s roughly $70 billion budget. (The Education Department paid for it out of a small pot that allows them to create demonstration grants—sort of the bureaucratic equivalent of pocket change.) And there was plenty of interest in the community. The program got about 70 applications, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said.

But the Obama administration wants to go bigger next time. It proposed $53 million for the program next year. And House lawmakers may be poised to deliver on at least part of that. They put $20 million for the program in their proposed budget.

“Our native communities need and absolutely deserve more funding,” Duncan said. “Even with improving graduation rates we all know that too many native kids drop out.”

The need to improve Native American education might be one of the few areas where the Education Department sees eye-to-eye with some Republicans in Congress.

Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla, who oversees the House panel that deals with education spending, is a fan of federal resources for native youth. And Indiana GOP Rep. Todd Rokita, who oversees the subcommittee dealing with K-12 policy, held hearings on the issue earlier this year.

Secretary Duncan has expressed concerns about the quality of Native American education since a round of visits to schools on reservations in Montana, South Dakota, and elsewhere fairly early on his tenure—and the Obama administration has proposed a plan to overhaul the Bureau of Indian Education.

But the problems these policymakers are trying to overcome are daunting and long-standing. Check out this great series by my colleague, Lesli Maxwell.